The OHL’s time in Mississauga has been rocky, complete with the ups and downs of ownership changes, relocations, and money losses. The story began in 1998 when the IceDogs franchise began in Mississauga. After a decade, though, the franchise moved to St. Catharines, where they became the Niagara IceDogs. Immediately after, the storied Toronto St. Michael’s Majors hockey club moved to Mississauga. Things were looking up as the club began to ice competitive teams year after year, leading up to their winning bid to host the 2011 Memorial Cup. After the excitement of this experience, things went back downhill for hockey in Mississauga. The Majors went up for sale and fears they would move out of Mississauga abounded. However, former part-owner Elliott Kerr bought the team and promised not to move them, however, he was forced to return the team’s trademarks – including their historic name – back to St. Michael’s College School in Toronto, from where the franchise originated.
In response to this, the club was renamed the Steelheads, after a well-known fish that swims in the rivers of the city. The struggles have not gone away for the newly-named team, as Mississauga is a stone’s-throw from the sporting draws of Toronto, and the suburban nature of the city means that the Steelheads can get swamped by coverage from Toronto. However, Mississauga as a city is developing an identity of its own and the attendance numbers for the Steelheads are starting to rise. Hershey Centre is a great place to watch a hockey game and fans are cautiously optimistic as the club continues to gain stability, buoyed by strong ownership and a good rink. Year after year, the Steelheads ice strong squads and are a great hockey experience when in the Toronto area.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Concessions at Hershey Centre are nothing special but there are certainly enough options to enjoy food and drink during an evening of hockey. Appropriately-named Hershey Snack Bars are located in the four corners of the concourse selling standard arena fare like pizza (CAD$4.25/slice), chicken nuggets ($4.25/$6), and French fries ($4, add gravy for 75 cents), as well as the popular and very tasty Oktoberfest sausage ($4.75), which is a great choice. Hockey staple poutine is available here for $6. And this being the Hershey Centre, these concessions also sell Hershey chocolate bars with family-size bars for $4 and regular bars for $2, which makes for a nice snack, especially as Hershey bars can be hard to find in most places in Canada.
There are a couple unique items on sale too; the popular beer nuts stand has reopened and is available next to section 7, while in section 20 there is ice cream. For more gourmet options, a Premium ticket will get you access to the comfortable Premium Lounge overlooking the ice, where Jamaican patties ($3), wings ($13/one pound), and sandwiches (chicken or veal ($6.25), pulled pork ($5.75) are served.
Beer options are decent, with good availability throughout the arena and tallboy cans cost $8.75. There is Molson Canadian, Rickard's, Alexander Keith's, Stella Artois, Budweiser, and Bud Light for sale at stands around the arena, while for a relaxed pint before the game or between periods, head to the Bud Light lounge off the concourse. This lounge has comfortable seats and overlooks an attached community rink. There are lots of drinks on offer here as well as snacks and hot food items like pizza and hot dogs.
Other drinks include Smirnoff Ice for $9.50, while Pepsi-brand pop or juices are $3.50. Gatorade is $4, while coffee, tea, or hot chocolate are $1.75.
Approaching the facility from the exterior, the roofline is attractive and screams 'hockey rink' as it curves above the modern façade. Entering through the main doors, there is a small atrium with the cozy team shop. Tickets are scanned, then the simple concourses wrap around the rink. These are uncluttered and travelling around the facility is quick and easy. A couple community stands sell charity contests like 'chuck-a-puck' while the fairly sparse concession booths don't impede progress. The concourses are boosted by the addition of murals commemorating local youth hockey clubs and the captain's wall, but most of the old history from the previous teams in Mississauga is removed.
Entering the seating bowl, the feel is different. The mostly symmetrical bowl is decked out in purple and is highlighted by the far-and-away best video board in the league. The four screens are crystal-clear and are pro-quality. Replays are frequent and helpful while there is no tacky advertising or promotions to distract from the match.
Along one wall are banners with the logos of all OHL teams, however, there is a noticeable lack of banners hanging from the roof as the history of teams in Mississauga has been lost. Hopefully, the frequently competitive Steelheads team will be able to raise some new banners soon.
The most distinctive feature of Hershey Centre is the hanging portrait of the Queen, a tradition which used to be found at almost every arena in Ontario, but now exists at only a handful of OHL barns. Hershey Centre deserves credit for maintaining this classy tradition, even though it is a pretty new arena.
Hershey Centre is located in an industrial area near the airport and though that does mean there are lots of hotels nearby, there isn't really anywhere a fan would go for a meal or pint within walking distance. Everything a fan could need is only ten minutes away, though, in the exploding Mississauga City Centre. Either by bus or car, head toward the sea of towers that can be seen from the arena - this is the new hub for Mississauga as it sheds the roll of mere suburb.
In this neighbourhood there is plenty to do. Celebration Square has programming throughout the year, and there is music and theatre at Living Arts Centre. Square One Mall has hundreds of shops and restaurants, including all the national chains. For an upscale dinner try Canyon Creek Chophouse or Scaddabush Italian. Back in the City Centre precinct, stroll up Living Arts Drive and try Live Cuisine Restaurant, Union Burger, Earl's, or Basil Box. Alternately, head further south to the charming Port Credit village and visit The Harp for a good pub experience and a view of the Port Credit Lighthouse which is featured on the Steelheads' uniforms. Finally, the nearby village of Streetsville has lovely restaurants along Queen Street.
Attendance has been an understandable struggle in Mississauga for years; the city lacks its own mainstream media outlets. Moreover, the city has a very large ethnic and immigrant population who have not collectively embraced hockey to the same extent.
Still, attendance is slowly growing and approaching 3 000 per game, which approaches the realm of respectability, even if the arena is almost half-empty some nights. Year-on-year improvement has been the norm recently, which bodes well.
The fans that do show up are very knowledgeable of their team and louder than many of their counterparts in the OHL, wearing scarves and starting a couple good chants during the game. When the arena does fill up, the atmosphere is among the best in the league, as evidenced when over 7,000 fans practically blew the roof off the barn in the 2011 Ontario final against Owen Sound. However on the average night, the arena is less than two-thirds full so there is plenty of room to grow.
Hershey Centre is great to get to by car; located near Highways 401 and 403 and with plenty of free parking. Getting to the arena by public transit is possible, but not as good as it is at most other OHL arenas due to the out-of-the-way location of the rink, and this is what prevents a perfect score. MiWay, the local transit operator, runs relatively frequent buses by the rink with three routes stopping outside the main entrance. Coming by public transit from downtown Toronto, nearby GO Train stations are Streetsville, Meadowvale, and Cooksville.
Within the arena, concourses are wide and washrooms are adequate, especially considering the arena is rarely sold out.
Tickets are a good deal in Mississauga, even by OHL standards, with adult tickets starting at just under $17, and kids for $15. The most expensive Premium tickets are only $25. Coupled with good food prices, decent beer, and free parking, a night at the hockey in Mississauga is affordable, and sure to be exciting as the Steelheads ice competitive teams yearly. The experience will be improved if attendance continues to rise.
The Bait Shop, as the team store is known, is not as cheap, with items costing a little more than seems to be average around the league. Hats cost $30, which is steep, while the team scarves are almost always sold out; Mississauga has caught firmly on to the trend of scarves that has taken Canadian hockey by storm in recent years.
The Steelheads are very involved in promotion of Olympians, Paralympians, and Special Olympians, worthy of an extra point.
An extra point for the Queen's portrait, maintaining a hockey tradition in a newer arena.
A final extra point for the concourse murals featuring local youth hockey clubs, which enhances the connection to local hockey in the city.
Hockey fans in Mississauga look to finally have found some stability, but there is lots of room to grow until the seats are always filled. Hershey Centre is a great place to catch a well-run hockey team and is an excellent introduction to the OHL for hockey fans in Toronto. Although the road to permanency continues to be rocky, Mississauga is settling in more every year as a great place to catch a game and support the local club, and fans continue to say "don't doubt the trout."
Where is the toughest place to run a hockey team? How about right next door to the Toronto Maple Leafs? Mississauga, Ontario is a mid-sized city west of the Maple Leaf-mad city of Toronto. Operating a hockey team in Mississauga comes with a whole host of issues. There is no local over the air radio; no major newspaper coverage; only local cable TV coverage. With all of this in mind, the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors continue to make strides to provide a product that is appealing to a local audience living right next door to the largest market in Canada.
The Majors have a long and rich history which dates back to 1906 when they were the Toronto St. Michael's Majors. The Majors were owned and run by St. Michael's College, which is a private, catholic, all-boys school in Toronto. Hockey alumni going through the doors at St. Mike's is a who's who of hockey royalty. Hockey Hall-of-Famers who called St. Mike's home include Ted Lindsay, Dick Duff, Dave Keon, Red Kelly, Frank Mahovlich and Tim Horton. (Yes ... the Tim Horton of doughnut and coffee fame).
The Majors ceased operations in 1964, but returned in 1997. Upon their return, the Majors were purchased by St. Mike's alum, and owner of the Ottawa Senators, Eugene Melnyk. Melnyk attempted to find a more appropriate place for the Majors to play rather than the small barn on the campus of St. Michael's College. With little success, Melnyk eventually bought the OHL team Mississauga IceDogs solely for the lease to the Hershey Centre. The IceDogs were eventually sold and moved to the Niagara Region, and the Majors relocated to Mississauga to become the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors. The Majors maintain their affiliation to St. Michael's College and many of the current players attend the school.
The Hershey Centre has had a stale and lifeless existence during the IceDogs years, but the Majors have attempted to change that. This is just in time for Mississauga to host The Memorial Cup in 2011.
Just two years ago things seemed to be looking up for the OHL in Mississauga. The Mississauga St. Michael's Majors had a high profile owner in Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk. Their attendance was on the rise. They were about ready to host the Memorial Cup. It's amazing how things change in just two years.
After the Majors hosted the Memorial Cup in 2011, Eugene Melnyk owned the team for just one more year, and expressed frustration in continually losing money. There was great speculation as to the future of OHL hockey in the GTA. The Brampton Battalion are without a lease past the 2012-13 year, and speculation of a shake-up with one of the two teams leaving was abounding. In the end, Melnyk sold the Majors to former part-owner of the Mississauga IceDogs, Elliott Kerr. As part of the sale agreement, all trademarks pertaining to the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors were returned to St. Michael's College and the Mississauga OHL team was forced to re-brand ... for the second time. This once again closed the book on the long history of the Majors franchise in the OHL.
Elliott Kerr and his team re-branded the team, the Mississauga Steelheads, named after a fish that can be found in local rivers. The problem for fans is that this is the third incarnation of OHL hockey in Mississauga, first having taken on the Mississauga IceDogs, only to have them sent to Niagara and immediately having them replaced by their rival from Toronto to become the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors.
The Steelheads still have all of the challenges that the Majors and IceDogs had. There is still no local radio station to offer coverage, and there is no major newspaper. The city of Mississauga is still a stone's throw from Toronto which features the iconic Toronto Maple Leafs and the upstart Toronto Marlies. The new brand in Mississauga is almost like starting from scratch, without the excitement of expansionism.
Maybe a little biased as I am a season ticket holder but this really is a beautiful rink under appreciated by the folks in Mississauga great big video board, wide open concourses, free parking and cheap tickets come see it while there's still a team to see.
I try to visit all 20 OHL Rinks every season thanks to my job, but the Hershey Centre is a place I don't mind missing.
The Hershey Centre is one of the nicest facilities in the Ontario Hockey League, but the lack of atmosphere from the fans brings it down. The Steelheads definitely get an A for effort, and have one of the best scoreboards in the league.
Definitely feel bad for those who are true fans of this team.
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